by Michael Thomas
Whenever you can see an act of Cold Specks’ stature at a venue like the Drake, jump at the chance to attend. At a Cold Specks show, the question is not “will I get chills?” It’s actually “how many times will I get chills?”
A little under a month before Neuroplasticity is set to drop, Al Spx et al. paid a visit to Toronto’s Drake Hotel Underground for a sold-out show. It was part album preview, part window into Spx’s feelings on her first record and all powerful songs.
Her music has been called “doom soul” and that unique genre title is even more apt on her new material. The set opened with a Neuroplasticity song that sounded like a funeral dirge, and several other songs were also ostensibly steeped in darkness, like “Old Knives.” Spx explained the latter was about a dream she had where she decapitated a lover while he slept. “It’s really a love song,” she said dryly.
But while her music has gotten darker, Spx clearly hasn’t, as she managed to find time to do an a cappella rendition of the Backstreet Boys classic “I Want It That Way.”
Mandated goofiness aside, the loudness continued with “Exit Plan,” a song that at first sounds like it could have been on I Predict a Graceful Expulsion but then balloons into something more ferocious. “Absisto” is an absolute masterstroke of a song, reveling in bleakness and boiling over during the brief few seconds before the instruments get louder.
While Neuroplasiticity dominated the setlist, Spx certainly didn’t forget about her old material. She played “Hector” and “When the City Lights Dim” early on before closing the set with a reworked “Winter Solstice,” which she told the audience she hated. “We changed it into a prog-rock song,” she said, and while the lyrics remain powerful, this new version adds a lot more kick.
She returned for an encore, first playing the touching “Blank Maps” solo on guitar before closing with the a cappella stunner “Old Stepstone.” At the end of the day, Al Spx could do an entire set with nothing but her voice and still manage to stun each and every person in the audience.